Thursday, July 14, 2011

HAWKER FARE - Thai Has Come Today

Beer.  They have Beer!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of dining again at Hawker Fare, James Syhabout’s recent addition to Oakland’s gloriously vibrant dining scene. The magic in the kitchen is wonderfully realized by Chef Justin Yu, ably assisted by Sous Kelly Ng and Josh Brigham.

I’ve been to Commis, his inaugural effort that managed to garner Oakland its very first Michelin Star. (Score one for Oaktown). Imagine my delight when I heard the genius behind this premier establishment was opening a “Thai street food” venture in my own backyard. (Hawker Fare is on Webster Street in Oakland, right on the corner of Webster and 23rd). I quite literally work right across the street. I am soooo lucky.

Green Beans sauteed in bacon and
sprinkled with sweet chili paste.
Yeah Baby!
 The BH and I went again yesterday. I’d read an “article” in SF Eater purporting to discuss whether or not the success of Hawker Fare was approaching the acknowledged success of Commis on Piedmont Avenue. Rather than discussing the merits of Syhabout’s newest effort, or researching whether it was hitting its stride with the public, the piece was nothing more than a selected regurgitation of snippets from other on-line blogs on restaurants, some good, some not, but none original. “Articles” like this do nothing to further any understanding on the part of the reader as to whether or not Hawker Fare was “garner[ing] star cred in the casual cuisine realm.” It kinda pissed me off. So to balance the flow of constant unreliable information echoing through “Yelp” and other such sites, I thought I’d go back again and read you in on my first hand accounts. I am such a selfless gal.

Mussels in magic broth
 We’ve sampled a great deal of the menu over our several visits. On this one, we had starters, just to give a better variety to the reader. I know, you’re thinking how generous of me to eat extra dishes so I can fill you in. I had the Haricots Verts a lovely dish of sauteed green beans, cooked with bacon and a light red chili paste that leaves them just a little sweet, just enough spicy and yeah. Bacon flavored. Delicious.

They’ve added beer to the menu!!!, so I had a Singha with my lunch and BH had the vanilla creme soda.

The BH had the Mussels Starter. The crustaceans themselves were moist and beautifully seasoned, floating in a creamy broth that resembled thom kha gai (chili coconut broth, lemongrass, mint, cilantro). It was a blissfully well prepared version of one of his favorite all time treats. If you’ve ever tried mussels, you know it’s all about the broth. The tiny mouthfuls of seafood, the bread, all have to be dipped in the broth. When the broth is ambrosia, well that’s what makes the dish good.

Lemongrass Chicken
 We each ordered a main, and they were up next. I had one of my faves, the Lemongrass Chicken. Hawker Fare’s lemongrass chicken is not at all what you’d picture if you’ve ever ordered the dish in a more traditional Thai restaurant. It isn’t the white strips of chicken meat laid over greens with a sprinkling of some peanut sauce or other. This dish is nice thick slabs of grilled meat, boned and infused beautifully with tumeric and coriander, the macerated chiles giving just the tiniest bit of heat. with lime, garlic and fish saucespices. It’s a rice bowl, so it comes with a nice scoop of slightly sticky rice to soak up any sauce that might escape the chicken. All of their rice bowls offer an optional farm egg “topping.” The egg is ever-so-lightly fried, with the yolk left soft and runny so one can break it and let the golden puddle of sauce run across the chicken meat, mingling with the spices and making it something well, really special. Have I mentioned I belong to the Wiley Dufresne school of egg worship? Yeah, you heard me, I’m an egg whore.

BH had one of his Hawker usuals, the Beef Short Rib done “satay” style, with a coconut milk marinade and then grilled. Its got a lovely savory peanut sauce and a few grilled scallions to balance it out. He loves it. I’ve tasted it, and I heart it too.

Isn't she lovely?
and she tasted GREAT!
 After we neatly polished off our lunches, we ordered the Hawker Sundae - a bowl of fluffy vanilla soft serve crafted from condensed milk that’s been cooked down into a delicious dulce de leche flavor airy puff of chilly goodness, coated with salted palm sugar caramel atop a bed of candied red beans and puffed rice. The whipped cream is infused with fresh lime, so every rich sugary bite has a citrus kiss to finish it off on the palate.

This is a first rate eatery. The staff is helpful, knowledgeable about the food, and very professional. Diners will get "Commis" treatment and brilliantly prepared simple fare, all on a fast casual budget. We ordered half the menu, including drinks and the bill was just about $50 with tip. Ordinarily we can get out of Hawker without spending more than $30 for lunch. Now that’s a good deal.

I say go for yourself. Check it out, bring a loved one or a good friend, and make a memory of your own.

Hawker Fare
2300 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 832-8896

Owner: Chef James Syhabout
Exec. Chef Justin Yu

Table size: adequate
Price: inexpensive
Noise Level: If I could come up with any criticism, it is that the music is too loud for those of us who have any hearing loss. But they are lovely about seating us away from the speakers.

Postscript: Everyone knows the first rule of credible journalism is impartiality in reporting. One is not supposed to have any interest in the facts falling one way or another. A good writer will report those facts and let the reader come to his or her own conclusions. Sadly, these days anyone who is remotely aware must recognize that internet journalism often isn’t journalism at all. When you are reading articles about food and restaurants, particularly those that purport to give you the valid opinions of others, consider the source. Yelpers are just as often trying to garner attention for themselves as they are trying to inform a diner about where to eat, or what that experience might really be like.

If sites like Yelp are to be at all useful (and I would argue that their use is limited at best, given that all contributors are encouraged to be funny or cool or smarmy, rather than insightful or informative). Remember that any good statistician will tell you to throw out your outliers. So negative quotes must be weighed against the majority. Just sayin’